Archive for the ‘Surveillance’ Category

Service of Amazon Moving into Your Home & Hotel: American Passivity is Creepy

Monday, July 15th, 2019


Get the feeling that Big Brother is closing in and that our lives are under an increasingly powerful magnifying glass while we join in like gleeful children without weighing the ramifications? Recently I wrote about Walmart’s gaining access to homes when no one’s there to deliver groceries to the fridge. In June 2015 I wrote “Service of strangers knowing more about you than your family does.” Today I cover Amazon’s plan to “get more people using its services and locked into its Alexa ecosystem,” as Christopher Mims wrote in The Wall Street Journal.

In “Amazon’s Plan to Move In to Your Next Apartment Before You Do –The tech giant has figured out a way to get millions of its smart speakers into homes without consumers lifting a finger, as property managers bring in Alexa to manage tenants,” Mims reported that already 25 percent of Americans own some kind of smart speaker, the lion’s share belonging to Amazon.

Amazon’s Alexa-controlled Echo speaker. Photo:

The brand’s Alexa Smart Properties team, a little known part of its Alexa division, is “working on partnerships with homebuilders, property managers and hoteliers to push millions of Alexa smart speakers into domiciles all across the U.S.” The division offers hardware and software at a discount as well as “new ways for property managers to harvest and use data.” Voice based wish lists and shopping habits of an increasing number of users will propel Amazon ahead of the competition in the rental and new home construction market according to Mims.

“Amazon has figured out a way to get into millions of homes without consumers ever having to choose its hardware and services in the first place.”

Alexa, which some call a personal assistant, responds to its owners voice and carries out tasks. Echo is one of Amazon’s hands-free, voice-controlled speakers.

Mims reminded readers that renters, buyers and hotel guests “may not be aware of all the parties monitoring their smart-home interactions.”

He continued “  ‘We envision a day when you can say ‘Hey Alexa, pay my rent,’ and it will transfer that money from a resident’s bank account,’ says PayLease chief executive Dirk Wakeham.”

Great: Now everyone knows your bank account number and how much rent you pay.

Thanks to smart phone technology, property managers also benefit: They save money, wrote Mims, because they can easily cut back air conditioning and heating in vacant apartments; provide access to units by contractors and change door locks.


Americans appear to be walking the plank on this one without blinking twice. I witnessed another example of passivity at a favorite store in the suburbs  last weekend. A long line at checkout developed an offshoot and nobody at the juncture said, “The line ends over there.” I went to customer service asking for a staffer to direct the line and sort out the confusion. The woman turned her back on me saying “I know.” Such acceptance makes me nervous. I fear that Americans are setting themselves up to be whacked for takeover by nefarious souls–like a golf ball on a tee.

Add surveillance to passivity and the sum is more than creepy, don’t you think? Are city folks more inclined than suburbanites to speak up in public? Do people signing up for or playing ball with smart speakers–installed where they will live or visit–realize what they are giving up? If your hotel room had a smart speaker/spy would you ask that it be disconnected?


Service of Surveillance

Monday, June 30th, 2014


I’ve always marveled at a company with more than one branch that is able to maintain quality service. Top management can’t be everywhere and to function, some people need to be supervised.

Today there’s a solution to this challenge.

In Steve Lohr’s front page New York Times story, “Unblinking Eyes Track Employees,” surveillance technology determined that social interaction makes workers more productive. As a result one bank introduced a daily coffee break for at team of telemarketers who, in addition to working more efficiently, didn’t quit as frequently as others who weren’t giving this chance to mingle.

Sensors worn by employees who agree to be monitored can measure tone of voice, posture and body language as well as how long two employees speak.

communal office tablesThis science can impact office design. It seems that giving office workers communal tables or lowered dividers around work spaces inspires productivity. “‘We don’t know if those tactics work,’ Mr. Koop said. ‘What we’re starting to see is the ability to quantitatively measure things instead of just going by intuition.’”  Bryan Koop is a commercial office developer whose client is one of the companies that conducts and analyzes office surveillance. [I don’t think you need digital monitors to come to this conclusion. Who but the most bold will goof off in sight of office neighbors and who wants the world to hear personal conversations?]

Digital monitoring helps management identify efficient waiters. At one chain they chose one to manage a newly opened restaurant. Wrote Lohr: “The digital sentinel……. tracked every waiter, every ticket, and every dish and drink, looking for patterns that might suggest employee theft. But that torrent of detailed information, parsed another way, cast a computer-generated spotlight on the most productive workers.”

Good waiterIn the restaurants where monitoring existed, weekly sales increased—almost $3,000 on average–as a result of surveillance. What a nice surprise. That happened because waiters and waitresses, knowing they were being watched, urged customers to try a dessert or have another drink. The theft that management thought they’d detect amounted to only $108/week per restaurant. There were 392 restaurants in 39 states in the study.

“The monitoring software is a product from NCR called Restaurant Guard,” Lohr wrote. “The product, introduced in 2009, exploits the rapid progress in so-called big data technology, for collecting, storing and analyzing vast amounts of data.” Several thousand restaurants use the software according to Lohr.

If your employer asked you to wear a monitoring device, would you volunteer? Do you think you would be penalized if you refused? What do you think of monitoring employees? Should the monitoring industry be regulated?

stopwatch 2

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